Deterrence

STUDIES: Researchers Find "No Empirical Support" for Deterrence Theory

Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas recently published a study on whether executions deter homicides using state panel date and employing well-known econometric procedures for panel analysis. The authors found "no empirical support for the argument that the existence or application of the death penalty deters prospective offenders from committing homicide."  The study was published in the journal of Criminology and Public Policy and authored by Tomislav V. Kovandzic, Lynne M. Vieraitis and Denise Paquette Boots, all professors of criminology.  The study concluded, "In sum, our finding of no deterrent effect of the DP (death penalty) on homicide suggests the risk of execution does not enhance the level of deterrence. Therefore, we conclude that although policy makers and the public may continue to support the use of the death penalty based on retribution, religious grounds, or other justifications, defending its use based on deterrence is inconsistent with our findings. At a minimum, policy makers should refrain from justifying its use by claiming that it is a deterrent to homicide and explore less costly, more effective ways of addressing crime."

NEW VOICES: Washington State Law Enforcement Officials Express Doubts About Death Penalty

Walla Walla County (Washington) Sheriff Mike Humphreys said the death penalty does not deter homicides, and it may be time for the public to reconsider the law: "At the time, (perpetrators do not) think about [the death penalty]. They don't believe they're going to get caught. And if they do get caught, there are a lot of court proceedings making it likely (execution is) not going to happen. . . . It's costing us this much money. Let the people make that decision," he said. Humphreys agreed with a recent (Death Penalty Information Center) survey of police chiefs who rated reducing drug abuse as a better way of reducing crime. "If we're going to reduce the drug abuse, we're going to reduce all crimes. From theft to murder," he said.  Police Chief Chuck Fulton agreed with Humphreys that the death penalty is not a deterrent and would prefer to see the practice abolished through legislation. Fulton said the death penalty creates more victims and the system results in a "'carnival atmosphere' that adversely affects penitentiary workers, law enforcement officers responsible for maintaining security, and every one else involved." He said he understands the anger toward those who commit murder but doubts that the death penalty is the answer for society.

DPIC Releases New Report on Costs of the Death Penalty and Police Chiefs' Views

The Death Penalty Information Center has released its latest report, "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis." The report combines an analysis of the costs of the death penalty with a newly released national poll of police chiefs who put capital punishment at the bottom of their law enforcement priorities.

Click here to read the report.
Click here to read DPIC's press release.
Click here for the Executive Summary of the report.

STUDIES: FBI Uniform Crime Report Finds Murder Rates Declined in 2008

The annual crime report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed a decline in the national murder rate.  The rate dropped 4.7% in 2008 compared to 2007. Despite a regional decline, the South still has the highest murder rate among the four geographic regions: 6.6 murders per 100,000 people, higher than the national rate of 5.4. The Northeast still maintains the lowest murder rate at 4.2. There were 16,272 murders or non-negligent manslaughters in 2008, according to the report.  (FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2008 (published Sept. 2009)). The South has accounted for over 80% of executions since 1976 (971 of 1176 executions), while the Northeast accounted for less than 1% (4 of 1176).  Of the 20 states with the highest murder rates in the country, all of them had the death penalty in 2008.

OPINION: San Francisco Chronicle Addresses "The High Cost of Vengeance"

John Diaz, the editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, recently questioned the wisdom of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty in California. Diaz pointed to the enormous expense of maintaining capital punishment in the state: "Today, California has nearly 700 inmates on death row, more than any other state, with their cases in varying levels of appeal. The housing of an inmate on death row is more than triple the $40,000 annual cost of incarcerating others. This state is contemplating a new, $400 million death row. And none of this includes the legal bills for the trials and appeals that are - by constitutional right - more exhaustive in capital cases."  He called for an open debate, “At some point, California needs to have a forthright debate about the cost and efficacy of the death penalty. That moment,” he wrote alluding to upcoming elections, “maybe coming in 2010.” He noted that executions are too rare in California to be a plausible deterrent.  The percentage of Californians who believe the death penalty is a deterrent has dropped from 79% to 44% in the last twenty years.

Murders Drop in New Jersey Following Moratorium and Abolition of Death Penalty

The number of murders in New Jersey declined 24% in the first six months of 2009 compared to the same period last year.  Murders declined in 2008, the year after the state abolished the death penalty, marking the first time since 1999 that New Jersey has seen a drop in murders for two consecutive years.  Murders dropped 11% in 2007, the year following a state-imposed moratorium on executions, which was instituted in 2006. Governor Jon Corzine, who signed the bill abolishing the death penalty, was encouraged by the statistics and attributed the decline to aggressive crime-fighting measures: "The release of these crime report statistics shows that we are winning important battles in the war against violent criminals and gangs," said the Governor. "Thanks to the efforts of Attorney General Milgram and the New Jersey law enforcement community, county task forces, police departments, and partner agencies, more than  4,200 offenders have been arrested for crimes including murder, assault with a firearm, armed robbery, and gun and drug trafficking. We know more work remains.  Even one act of violence against a New Jersey citizen is one too many."

Study: 88% of criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent

A recent study by Professor Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock of the University of Colorado found that 88% of the nation’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime. The study, Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates?

NEW VOICES: Experts Find Little Benefit to Justify California's Expensive Death Penalty

Two experts in criminology challenged the rationale for California's high spending on the death penalty in a recent op-ed in the Contra Costa Times. Michael Radelet, chair of the Sociology Department at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Werner Einstadter, professor emeritus of criminology and sociology at Eastern Michigan University, contrasted California’s multi-million dollar spending on capital punishment with the lack of any deterrent effect. Especially in a time of severe economic crisis, the authors maintained, it makes little sense to spend exorbitant sums on a program that produces nothing in return. They pointed to a recent survey of leading criminologists that concluded that the death penalty fails as a deterrent.  The survey, published as “Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists,” found that  87% of the nation's experts believe that capital punishment could be abolished without any adverse effect on the murder rate.  The study may be read here and the full op-ed by Radelet and Einstadter may be read below.

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